The folk at mbaMission always recommend getting started with your MBA applications as early as possible. By taking action now, you can dramatically improve your chances of gaining admission to a top MBA program in the coming years. It is never too soon (and certainly not too late) to take several crucial steps to shape your MBA candidacy. So they’re presenting a five-part series to provide a step-by-step timeline to help guide you down the long road of applying to business school. These guidelines assume that you are setting out a year ahead of the January deadlines. Even if you are starting later, you should be able to leverage this timeline to help you prioritize each step along the way. This week, they will lay out what you should be doing at least one year before you submit your applications. For more information on mbaMission and how they can help you in this process, click here.
The steps that we lay out in “pre-stage” planning are somewhat timeless. It is never too soon to take on a leadership position in your community, sign up for a supplemental course, visit your target schools, etc. We have therefore structured this piece so that you can consider the steps outlined in these sections “ongoing.”
Start Your GMAT Prep
As an aspiring MBA, you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you are juggling many aspects of the application process (GMAT study, essays, class visits, supplementary classes, etc.) at once. So, you should start your GMAT prep as early as possible and thus remove this time-consuming and stressful element of the application process, before the bulk of the applications are released in May/June. If you are reading this and truly striving to plan ahead, we strongly recommend that you enroll in a Manhattan GMAT course a full year before you will need to submit your applications/receive decisions. Manhattan GMAT courses are often nine weeks in duration, and you may require a month of additional study afterward to focus on your specific issues. So, if you want to take the GMAT at least once prior to the May/June essay question release dates, you would need to start a class by mid-January. If you want to leave yourself time to take the test more than once (you can only schedule the test once every 31 days up to a maximum of five times each year), you should begin your preparation even earlier.
Contemplate Additional Coursework/Enroll in Additional Courses
We also recommend that you consider whether you might benefit from some additional coursework, and if so, enroll in classes at an early stage. Was your undergraduate performance weak (i.e., you had a GPA of 3.0 or under)? Did you perform well but take no quantitative coursework at all? If you answered “yes” to either of these questions, you should identify nearby colleges and inquire about their available introductory course offerings in areas such as economics, accounting, finance, calculus and statistics. By taking one or two classes in these areas, you could change the admissions committees’ perspective on your academic aptitude.
MBA programs are actually far more forgiving of previous academic problems than other graduate programs are. Most candidates’ academic experience is far in the past, and their GMAT score, references and work experience are better indicators of their potential for success. This is not to suggest that poor grades do not matter, but rather, that they can often be mitigated. Of course, it is important that you get As in the courses you take to show that you have an aptitude for that kind of work and also that you take your academics quite seriously. So, enroll now so you will have ample time to complete a semester-long class and have your academic issues “solved”—hopefully by the end of the spring, but by the end of summer at the latest.
Contemplate School Choices and Visit Target Schools
A surprising number of MBA candidates define their list of target schools by reading popular rankings, such as those produced by BusinessWeek and U.S. News & World Report. Although rankings can provide a good starting point for your research, we recommend that candidates define specific parameters as to what they consider important in an MBA experience. (For example, would you prefer a case method or lecture environment? A large class or a small class? An urban or small-town campus? A rigid or flexible curriculum?) As you work to define your parameters, you might consider visiting a few campuses to learn about their differences and identify what truly interests you. Most MBA programs open their class visit schedules in October and will facilitate visits into mid-April; again, by scheduling and making these trips early, you will be able to complete—and thus eliminate—this time-consuming aspect of the application process that would otherwise demand your attention as first-round deadlines approach.
Of course, beyond the personal rewards you will gain by visiting a school and taking time to contemplate whether it is an appropriate choice for you, admissions committees generally appreciate when prospective students come to campus, and your visit will better enable you to implicitly describe your fit with the school via your essays.
Accelerate Personal Achievements
By advancing your personal achievements, you can differentiate yourself from the indistinguishable masses. You should immediately consider any personal endeavors that you have started and focus on accelerating the timeline of any achievements that are already within reach. For example, if you have always intended to publish a certain article and have almost finished a final draft, now is the time to finish it. If you have always planned on earning your CFA designation and only have Level III of the exam left, arrange to take the final test this year—don’t wait! If you can run 20 miles and have always dreamed of completing a marathon, do it this year. We are not suggesting that if you have never run a mile in your life, you start training for a marathon now; however, if a goal of yours is reasonably in sight and will be otherwise achieved after your applications are due, you should accelerate your timeline to ensure that you have completed it before the first-round deadline.
Take a Leadership Role in Your Community
In a competitive admissions environment, differentiating yourself from others (almost all of whom will have the ability to showcase their grades, GMAT scores and professional experiences) is important. One way that many candidates reveal more of themselves and their leadership potential to the admissions committees is by taking a leadership role in their communities. You might be thinking to yourself, “But there is so little time left, and the admissions committee will see through my experience!” We recommend that you commit yourself to an organization about which you are passionate as early as possible and strive to make a noticeable impact in the months (or, ideally, longer) before your first-round application deadlines. If you were to start volunteering later in the application season, your gesture would seem far less sincere, and you would lack the profound experiences to explore in your essays. Saying definitely when is “too late” to take such a step is difficult—early is better, but quality of experience trumps quantity.
Pursue Firm Sponsorship of Your MBA
If you plan to remain with (or return to) your current firm after you receive your MBA, you would be wise to do some research now on whether your firm will sponsor your degree. While the financial benefits of firm sponsorship are obvious, many prospective students do not realize that there is additional power inherent in being a firm-sponsored candidate. The admissions committees know that these applicants, with their firm’s backing, will be employed upon graduation and that these individuals’ post-MBA goals are thereby “guaranteed.” Furthermore, the admissions committee will sleep better, knowing that when the school later reports its employment statistics to BusinessWeek as part of that publication’s regular MBA ranking survey, the program will likely see a small benefit in the “percentage of candidates employed upon graduation” and possibly even “average starting salary” categories.
So, be sure to find out whether your firm has an MBA sponsorship program and, if so, learn what is necessary to earn a firm scholarship. We at mbaMission have worked with clients who have needed to apply for such a scholarship within their company as long as a year and a half before their proposed MBA programs would begin; obviously, in such cases, you do not want to be applying at the last moment. Similarly, we have worked with clients whose firms did not originally have sponsorship programs, but created them when our candidates brought forth the idea—a process that can involve months of bureaucratic haggling. So, this is certainly a process you should start now.